The New York Times Book Review once wrote: “If Henry James were around, the only writer he’d be reading with complete approval would be Anita Brookner.” The Rules of Engagement, by Anita BrooknerAnd, indeed, there might have been many reasons for Henry James to like Anita Brookner’s books. The excellent and well rounded stories with their turnarounds and surprises would probably have been much appreciated. And the excellent, precise yet poetic language all books by Anita Brookner share would probably also have been a reason. And, of course, the characterizations – the easy and seeming simple way Brookner makes her characters live.

The Rules of Engagement is firmly set in a world that has by now become strangely familiar to those of us who have read several of her books: London – upper middle class London. Here two girls, Elizabeth and Betsy meet on their very first day at school. They bond and form a lasting relationship. It is one that changes over time, where there is affection and competition, even at times envy. Not a simple relationship – a relationship as we find them in the real world.

Betsy is open and eager to please, while Elizabeth is more analytical, cooler and a little harder to understand. Viewed from the outside, the two have little in common. Yet in reality they do: stubbornness, strength, also, later, the same married lover.

The novel is written from the perspective of Elizabeth aged 50-something. It tells the tale of the strange, at times dangerous and even devastating choices the two women make as they age. The perspective chosen by Brookner lends itself not only to telling the tale, but also to reflect on the choices and their consequences. And the slightly withdrawn Elizabeth does just that – she dissects her life, the relationship ruthlessly.

“We had seen ourselves always as lovers, whereas sensible persons, or perhaps those with greater understanding of the world, make their peace with existing circumstances…. we had chosen, she and I, to stay within the limits of this exalted and fragile condition.”

Nobody else will ever write quite like Anita Brookner. Perhaps nobody will ever write such novels about Victorian virginality again either. The stories are somewhat alien to me but Brookner tells them in such a skilled way, and with such power, elegance and polish, that she makes that alien world where her personae seemingly lives come completely alive. It is a book that makes you feel you can understand how two people’s lives develop. I liked The Rules of Engagement a lot, and was moved to tears by the ending. It truly is a wonderful and grand novel!

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Anita Brookner rarely gives interviews. She once described her ambition as ‘to be unnoticed’. Because of this, her interviews are to some extent literary events. Here is a list of the few interviews we have been able to trace.

Observer, 2001
Telegraph – 2009

Please let us know if you know of any other interview available on the internet.

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  • A Start in Life (1981) US title: The Debut
  • Providence (1982)
  • Look at Me (1983)
  • Hotel du Lac (1984), won the Booker Prize
  • Family and Friends (1985)
  • A Misalliance (1986)
  • A Friend from England (1987)
  • Latecomers (1988)
  • Lewis Percy (1989)
  • Brief Lives (1990)
  • A Closed Eye (1991)
  • Fraud (1992)
  • A Family Romance (1993, US title Dolly)
  • A Private View (1994)
  • Incidents in the Rue Laugier (1995)
  • Altered States (1996)
  • Visitors (1997)
  • Falling Slowly (1998)
  • Undue Influence (1999)
  • The Bay of Angels (2001)
  • The Next Big Thing (2002, US title Making Things Better)
  • The Rules of Engagement (2003)
  • Leaving Home (2005)
  • Strangers (2009)

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